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Catalyst Arts invited Bryan Birtles to write about UNDERCONSTRUCTION.


“At its most basic, construction is about hope. I don’t want to get too sentimental or grandiose about it: it’s just an honest hope that the future can be made better by the work we put in today.

I’ve noticed that business is a bit precarious in this town. Blame it on the recession, call it a penchant for risk-taking, but businesses open and close constantly around here.

And so, Belfast feels like an unfinished city to me, one constantly being worked on, tweaked. Each day, somewhere along my road, there’s construction being done. I see workmen walking in and out of empty shops all the time, their clothes covered in paint and dust, hauling drywall and wood to skips that sit in the bus lane.

They take a space that was one thing—and failed at being that thing, I guess—and turn it into a space that is a new thing. And then the whole neighbourhood waits to see if that works.

Each job is a leap of faith. Somewhere there’s a person with an idea, who brought in a bunch of people to help her realize it. Tangled up in the construction is that idea and the hope that people will respond well to it, that the shop will be successful and stay open for the long term, be able to pay the rent, to sell its products or services, to be able to make it all work.

Within the act of construction is the hope for the future that may or may not come, but we bet that it will come and that we will be there to see it and we build and we build and we refuse to be knocked back by failure, we refuse to be knocked back by foreclosure. We gut the place and we build it again.

Sometimes we let that hope expand into something bigger than a shop. The Parthenon wasn’t built for a single generation, nor was the Colosseum. Humans construct monuments to their existence to be read by other humans well into the future. Through what we construct when we’re alive we can, in a sense, live forever.

But, like I said, I don’t want to get too grandiose about it. All construction is a message to the future, one that says, “I was here, I existed, I was human.” Text by Bryan Birtles

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